“I am not even 40 years old yet, but I am afraid I do not have much longer to live,” said a Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women inmate who was at the center of a legal action against the prison alleging that nursing staff improperly administered her medication.
She was right to fear.
Margie Ryder, 39, died last week after having been admitted to Virginia Commonwealth University’s Medical Center on June 24. She was due to have been released from prison in October.
This is yet another tragic episode in a long list of tragedies at FCCW.
Let’s be clear: At present, it’s impossible to know whether improper care caused her death. The coroner’s office listed her death as due to the natural result of pulmonary hypertension due to end-stage lung disease.
Ms. Ryder suffered from terminal pulmonary arterial hypertension. Her eventual death from the disease was inevitable.
But a University of Virginia physician who testified in the court case in May said that with modern treatment and proper care, life for such patients could be extended “almost indefinitely.”
Lawyers with the Charlottesville-based Legal Aid Justice Center had filed an emergency motion on her behalf to try to ensure that she received proper care. They alleged that her care had been mismanaged by FCCW on several occasions.
A UVa nurse previously had said in an affidavit that she had cared for Ms. Ryder three times at the UVa Medical Center, and that that each admission was due to FCCW’s failure to correctly administer her maintenance drug, Remodulin.
Ms. Ryder’s death is a loss to her family, to her friends, even to humanity, as is almost any death.
But it might also serve as a symbol of a bigger issue.
Margie Ryder was one person, one case out of many that the Legal Aid Center alleges have been mishandled at FCCW. Its legal actions against the prison have been going on for years.
First there was the court action filed earlier in this decade challenging the level of medical care at the prison and asking a judge to compel FCCW to meet basic standards.
A judge in 2016 imposed 22 standards and ordered the prison to meet them.
Within just a couple of years, Legal Aid went to court again, alleging that the prison was not living up to those standards.
Early this year, the judge agreed that eight of the 22 standards were not being met.
Then the center went to court again just a few months ago, specifically to try to obtain adequate care for Ms. Ryder, which it said was lacking. Proper administration of Remodulin was among the critical issues.
Again, there is no proof that Ms. Ryder’s death was caused by, say, a failure to properly administer Remodulin. At her stage of disease, perhaps nothing could have been done to save her.
But it’s impossible not to be deeply concerned about the long-term pattern of inadequate care at FCCW that has been documented by medical experts and recognized by the court.
A Legal Aid lawyer says there have been two other deaths in the past three months at the prison.
Ms. Ryder did not survive to reach her release date and enjoy the chance to go home to family.
But perhaps her case will help push forward the important work of ensuring that the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women properly cares for the inmates in its charge.